In a move seen as a goodwill gesture to bolster Mahmoud Abbas (photo, from nouvelobs.com), the Fatah Palestinian leader, more than 120 Palestinian prisoners will be freed, has pledged Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister.
The two leaders agreed during a meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday, which was the first since Mr Olmert said he would resign over a corruption investigation.
Mr Abbas wanted long-serving inmates, women and children as well as political leaders to be included in the prisoner release, scheduled for August 25, said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator.
He also said that Israel had agreed to release between 120 to 150 people, and possibly more.
“In response to a request by Abu Mazen [Abbas] … the Israeli side will be releasing Palestinian prisoners towards the end of August as a sign of good faith and a confidence-building measure towards the Palestinians”, said Mark Regev, Ehud Olmert’s spokesman.
But Mr Regev said “I’m not talking about names”, when asked if Marwan Barghouthi, seen as a possible successor as Palestinian president, would be among those freed.
Mr Barghouthi’s possible release to Mahmoud Abbas is seen as preferable than freeing him to Hamas, as part of a deal over Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier, which Egypt is trying to help broker.
Last November, 429 Palestinians have been released by Israel to Mr Abbas, as a gesture, after the resumption of peace negotiations at a US-backed conferencein Annapolis, Maryland.
And despite Israel’s internal political turmoil, Palestinians have been seeking assurances that peace talks, kick-started at the conference, will continue.